Spotting App Ideas That Won't Win
While I admit that ideas are nothing without execution. I think that some ideas are better than others. If someone dedicates their time and resources to a project, then the idea should be set on a legitimate ground for success or else they will not succeed.
Although, there is really only one way to know if your app idea will be successful, and that is to actually build it and try. And if you try and fail, at least you have a ton of experience to fall back on.
As glorious as some tech literature makes failing, no one actually wants to. So if you can help it, make sure your idea can hold water. By studying successful and failed apps, we can make a decent picture as to what an app needs to fulfill for the user.
It Is Tricky To Build Something Sticky
By all means the product a developer makes must be sticky. Its not terribly hard to make an app that people use once. But developing something that people use as often as they brush their teeth is difficult (how many apps do you use once or twice a day?).
Stickiness is vital for free social networking apps. A social network can only provide value if many people contribute to it. The ultimate reason why these networks cease to exist is because their users stop using their product.
Beme had all the right components to become a successful social network. And while it is not dead, it is safe to say that Beme does not have millions of daily active users. But why not? It was founded by the viral blogger Casey Neistat. It got a couple million dollars in funding. And when Beme launched, it got 400,000 users within the first week.
“Two months after launch, we found that only a tiny fraction of this initial flood were able to use the product in a meaningful way. They might check back once a week or once a month, but they weren’t really getting much out of it and neither were their friends.”
— CTO Matt Hackett in “Building A New Social App Today is Insane”
The problem with Beme lies in the idea itself. People don’t want to watch four second clips of random people they don’t know; it is bad content. It works on Snapchat because those people aren’t random, they are your friends. Given how similar Snapchat is to Beme, it seems like Beme would have to usurp Snapchat from their throne in order to become really successful, too.
If your designing a social network, then it should be original. Or it should at least have a novel approach to the same thing other networks do. It shouldn’t feel like a imitation. When someone creates a new social network, they enter into a very competitive space. People use a limited amount of apps. And the competitors have a lot of capital and smart people on their side, so knocking them off is difficult. Though it is not a zero sum game with apps and social networks. People who use Instagram, Twitter, etc can still become an active user of a new network.
For a new network to succeed, it should have a different design, use-case, and personality than existing platforms. Snapchat has a unique design, it is a design that Facebook can not duplicate successfully. When Facebook tried Snapchat with Poke, it didn’t work because it was an imitator.
If it isn't broken, then don’t fix it.
When your creating an app to solve a specific problem, you have to ask yourself, “Self, how do people deal with this problem already?” If it is tracking your sleep like the app Sleep Cycle, well there are probably not too many people who have a solution to that, and so the app is a pretty useful idea.
Push For Pizza (PFP) is an app meant to make ordering pizza very easy. The app is, however, solving a problem that has already been solved. People already know how to order pizza on their phones: you open up Google, type in pizza, then select from a list that includes all the pizzerias around. Google includes all the pizza places around me while PFP only includes places participating with them. Where I’m from, Lakeland and Tallahassee Florida, the app will not work because there are no registered restaurants.
Making apps integrated with restaurants is notoriously hard; the marketplace is littered with the corpses of apps that require the cooperation of restaurants. For example, take Alex Fish Fishman’s article, “My cofounder said “I love what we’re doing” and we shut down our startup” which goes into detail about his failed startup Dishero.
I think PFP was late to the party. They did not have the right timing, which is very important for a successful startup. If they were one of the first apps on the marketplace in 2008–9, then maybe they would have done better. The reason is because not everyone had really figured out how to order Pizza easily from their phones. In 2016 though, PFP is solving a problem no one has.
Making an app that will win is hard. When you look at those that have succeed it almost seems like random luck. But randomness is us not knowing the causes that led to the effects. There are many factors that go into making a killer app, and I don’t think there is a specific formula to follow.
The best advice I think for creating a networking app would be to make something cool and novel, and then get people using it in a small community (i.e. Facebook was just for college students, Snapchat first grew in high-schools). For an app that solves a problem, make sure you know this is an actual problem people have.